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Coronavirus devastates Filipino immigrant family in Rogers Park

Battling COVID-19 in the hospital, Luis Tapiru Sr. wakes to learn his wife Josephine and son Luis II have died of the virus. ‘He was in shock,’ his other son says.

Luis Tapiru (right) is still struggling with the loss of his son Luis Tapiru II and his wife Josephine from COVID-19 last April. It nearly killed him, too.
Luis Tapiru II (left) died April 14 from COVID-19. His mother Josephine died four days later. His father Luis I remains hospitalized with the disease. They’re pictured last Christmas at a friend’s house.
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Twenty-year-old Luis Tapiru II became one of the youngest casualties of COVID-19 in the Chicago area when he was found dead on the couch of his family’s Rogers Park condo on April 14.

His parents, Josephine and Luis Sr., already stricken with the disease, were fighting for their lives at AMITA Health St. Francis Hospital in Evanston when their son died at home alone.

Four days after her son’s death, Josephine, 56, who worked as a nurse at a nursing home, died.

It wasn’t until Thursday that Luis Sr. was informed of their deaths. Doctors waited until he was off a ventilator before telling him.

“He was in shock. He was in tears. He couldn’t believe it,” said the family’s other son, Justin Tapiru, 28, who helped deliver the news via FaceTime from Canada, where he lives.

COVID-19 has dealt a terrible blow to thousands of families around Chicago, but it has been particularly cruel to the Tapirus, a hardworking immigrant family deeply committed to their faith.

The Tapirus moved from Gatineau, Quebec, about 13 years ago. Josephine found a nursing job and thought Chicago would be a more exciting place to live. She had an uncle living here.

Natives of the Philippines, Josephine and Luis Sr. were described by their son as “really devout Christians” active in Couples for Christ, a Catholic lay movement founded in Manila. They attended St. Gertrude Catholic Church.

Luis Sr., who goes by Loy, works a manufacturing job in Wheeling and as a part-time caregiver. Josephine worked at two nursing homes at times, often putting in 12-hour days.

“My parents are like that,” Justin Tapiru said. “They loved to work all the time.”

That didn’t prevent Josephine from calling Canada three times a day to check in with her mother, Soledad Santos.

Santos explained their bond simply: “She was my only daughter. I had six sons.”

Josephine also found time for her best friends — Donna Oduca and Joselyn Smith — and the variety shows on Filipino television.

Luis II was a student at Harold Washington College. He started at University of Illinois Chicago, studying computer science, but didn’t like it and transferred to Harold Washington, where he switched to communications and seemed to be finding his groove.

His passion was video games, Call of Duty his favorite, his brother said. On the gamer streaming service Twitch, he went by “Taps.”

“Hopefully one day I can make this a full time thing!” Luis II wrote in his Twitch profile.

He worked part-time at Jollibee, the Filipino fried-chicken chain, before moving to Best Buy. The jobs helped him open up and make friends, his brother said.

Luis II also loved K-pop, especially the girl group TWICE, whose posters hung on his walls.

He graduated from Senn High School, where he played football for a while.

Luis II was 5-9, 260 pounds and suffered from asthma. Obesity and asthma are both risk factors that can result in coronavirus symptoms being more severe in some patients, especially young people.

The Tapirus lived in an apartment in the 6200 block of North Kenmore Avenue.

Josephine Tapiru was the first in the family to fall ill, in late March. Her son thinks she was infected at work. A coworker had been sick.

After being found unresponsive at home on April 4, Josephine was rushed to St. Francis and placed in an induced coma.

Luis II and his father tested positive days later. The doctor instructed them to isolate at home, Justin said.

On Good Friday, April 10, Luis Sr. was rushed to the hospital.

Justin and his grandmother called Luis II regularly to check on him. On April 13, he told them he was fine. His grandmother could tell he wasn’t and told him to get to the hospital. Followup calls went unanswered. By the next day, when police responded to a request for a well-being check, he was gone.

The Tapirus’ Canadian friends started a GoFundMe campaign for the family after the parents were hospitalized. By Thursday night, they had raised more than $24,000 toward an initial goal of $20,000, the tragic turn of events having moved the goalpost.

“This level of a personal loss for us all, but most especially for the immediate members of the Tapiru family, is truly unimaginable,” they wrote on the GoFundMe page.

Justin Tapiru said his last words to his mom and little brother were: “I love you, take care.”

“I always hoped for the best but planned for the worst, so I always made it clear how much I loved them,” he told me.

That’s always a wise approach to life, especially in the year of the coronavirus.

Luis Tapiru II.
Luis Tapiru II.
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VIDEO: Mark Brown spoke with WCIU’s “The Jam” hosts about the Tapiru family. The interview starts at 12:55 minutes.
VIDEO: Mark Brown spoke with WCIU’s “The Jam” hosts about the Tapiru family. The interview starts at 12:55 minutes.
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